Miami-Dade County

Wrongful death complaint filed in fatal Key Biscayne hit-and-run

College student Alejandro Alvarez appears in court Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, to face formal charges of DUI manslaughter in the death of a cyclist on Key Biscayne.
College student Alejandro Alvarez appears in court Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, to face formal charges of DUI manslaughter in the death of a cyclist on Key Biscayne. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

About a month after her husband was killed by a drunk driver while riding his bike on Key Biscayne, Maribel Reyes said she has a mission.

She will do everything she can to combat drunk driving.

“Young adults need to be educated,” she said at a press conference Friday morning in Coral Gables. “If there’s anything that comes out of this that can save somebody’s life, I’m going to do it.”

On Thursday, Coral Gables-based law firm Colson Hicks Eidson filed a wrongful death complaint in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court on behalf of Maribel Reyes and her two daughters. The complaint, filed against Alejandro Alvarez, 21, who was driving the car the night of the accident, and his father Rodrigo Alvarez, was meant to hold Alejandro Alvarez responsible for his actions and to raise awareness about the consequences of drunk driving.

Walter Reyes, 51, former CFO of real-estate firm Keyes Company, was killed Jan. 21 after being hit by a car at 5:22 a.m. while biking on Crandon Boulevard in Key Biscayne. He died at the scene.

Alejandro Alvarez was driving home from a South Beach club when he hit Reyes. Alvarez originally left the scene but returned soon afterward and turned himself in. Two hours after the crash, Alvarez still had a blood alcohol content level of .115. The legal limit is .08.

Alvarez was formally charged last week with DUI manslaughter and other felonies.

The wrongful death complaint filed Thursday alleges motor vehicle negligence and seeks damages for the loss of Walter Reyes.

“We hope the publicity surrounding this incident brings awareness to the urgency to combat drunken driving in our community, to do more about it and prompts action for increased safety measures for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists,” attorney Mike Eidson said Friday. “Too many innocent lives have been lost.”

This is the third hit-and-run cycling fatality on the road to Key Biscayne in the past 5 years.

Curtis Miner, a partner at Colson Hicks Eidson, said Miami-Dade County ranks among the top five deadliest metro areas for cyclists, according to some surveys.

“That is a statistic and a ranking,” he said, “that this community should be trying to remove, eliminate, defeat.”

Miner represented the family of Aaron Cohen, who was killed in an “eerily similar accident” to Walter Reyes. In 2012, Cohen died after being hit by a car when riding his bike on the Rickenbacker Causeway's William Powell Bridge. His death resulted in lawmakers passing the Aaron Cohen Act, which requires a mandatory minimum prison sentences of four years for drivers convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal crash.

“This deadly cycle on Key Biscayne,” Miner said, “this deadly cycle in our community should be put to an end.”

Cohen’s widow, Patricia Cohen, said when she heard about Walter Reyes’ death, she got angry.

“How can this happen again?” she said. “How can we not have learned from previous accidents? It just made me feel like it’s really time for us all to get serious about it.”

The city needs to increase police presence in the area to prevent this from happening in the future, Eidson said.

Cohen said the fight against drunk driving has to be a community effort.

“I’m heartbroken that another family is going through the exact same thing that we went through,” she said. “I can’t believe we would let that happen again.”

When Walter Reyes was riding his bike the morning of the accident, he was training for the Dolphin Cycling Challenge to raise money for the University of Miami's Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“He formed a team at Keyes, he drafted his coworkers and he started training,” Maribel Reyes said. “I guess it’s fitting that he died doing something to help others.”

Reyes said her goal now is to stop drunk driving.

“Stupid actions have tragic consequences,” she said. “And the sad thing about it, is it’s so avoidable.”

Her daughter, Jennifer Reyes, 19, named multiple options to avoid getting behind the wheel when drunk, including having a designated driver, calling a taxi or using ride-sharing apps such as Uber or Lyft.

“What happened isn’t an accident. An accident is something you have no control over,” she said. “However, driving while under the influence is something completely preventable.”

Jennifer Reyes said she wants to know that someone else who rides his or her bike on Key Biscayne doesn’t have to face the same fate as her family.

“That they can ride knowing they're going to get home,” she said. “They’re going to walk through their front door, say hello to their family, maybe their pet and that life will be normal.”

Her goal, she said, is to speak out and make people “think twice” about their actions — and to change at least one person’s mind.

She added that she has no regrets about the memories she shared with her father.

“I just wish I had more time,” she said.